Pre-Election Dirty Tricks: Ignore, Refute, or Pivot?

It sounds unlikely but the most appalling instance of journalistic malpractice last week was not when The Atlantic published anonymous allegations that President Trump disparaged American troops behind closed doors—it was Joe Biden’s so-called press conference following another shaky, rambling, and dishonest speech disguised as a “campaign event.”

Rather than jump at the chance to grill the Democratic nominee for president after weeks of his refusing to take questions with no objection from the press, reporters delicately pitched one softball after another to the frail candidate. Biden opened the event with a direct reference to The Atlantic article. (We will not link to the piece.) “If what is written in The Atlantic is true, it’s disgusting,” Biden fumed. “It affirms what most of us believe to be true, that Donald Trump is not fit to do the job of president, to be the commander in chief.”

The gaggle in attendance eagerly took his cue. The first “question”—well, it wasn’t a legitimate question so much as the rhetorical equivalent of foreplay—went to a scribe from none other than The Atlantic, who prompted Biden to opine about the “president’s soul and the life he leads.”

Follow-up teasers opened the door for Biden to rant about QAnon, face coverings, Attorney General William Barr, and mail-in voting. A CBS correspondent marveled at how Biden could “restrain” himself in the fight against the Bad Orange Man and wondered aloud why he isn’t “angrier” about Trump’s alleged remarks, triggering a response something along the lines of  Biden wanting to beat up the president behind a barn.

In stark contrast to the media’s angry, subversive handling of Donald Trump, reporters were obsequious to the point of nauseating. Flashbacks of how the media coddled Barack Obama came fast and furious; the national press corps, building on its 13-year history of covering for The Chosen One and everyone around him, took another one for the team.

As bad as that spectacle was, I believe we will look back after Election Day and conclude it was one of the least bad days for the American media during the 2020 presidential race. Democratic campaign operatives disguised as very serious journalists are promising new bombshells over the coming weeks.

Undoubtedly, more anonymous sources with more unproven accusations will surface; perhaps some decade-old recordings harbored by a disgruntled employee and outlandish tales from a shunned family member will titillate Trump-hating junkies? No story is too far-fetched, no lowlife is too out-of-bounds to be exploited in the media’s pursuit of not just defeat but total destruction of Donald Trump.

“[E]xpect more ossified scandals, Kindergarten interviews, improving favorability ratings for the president, and desperate efforts to prove COVID-19 is resurging, quarantines must be extended, rioting and burning are acts of love, and we are in a Great Depression,” Victor Davis Hanson predicted in his column this week. “And the more this does not work, the more vehemently it will be repeated.”

So, the question we must ask—and answer—is how much attention should we give these hyperbolic claims?

It’s clear that panic is setting in as Democrats struggle to carry Biden across the November finish line. After all, surefire winners don’t need to dredge up unsourced comments from more than two years ago and have them published in a discredited Russian-collusion rag.

The polls have tightened with states such as Minnesota, always considered a lock for a Democratic presidential candidate, up-for-grabs. Biden’s brief appearance in Kenosha generated zero voter enthusiasm but plenty of gaffes while his campaign’s strategy of attempting to blame Trump for violence in Democrat-run cities has backfired.

The Democratic mayor of Portland was chased out of his own home; Black Lives Matter thugs are attacking diners at outdoor restaurants in the suburbs. Nancy Pelosi was busted for a verboten trip to a local hair salon and laughably argued she was the victim of a “set up.”

On the flip side, the economy is recovering from a catastrophic COVID-19 induced shutdown as the stock market soars. The infection is burning out; Democrats depend on sustained hysteria over coronavirus to justify their mail-in election plan but a virus under control coupled with hopes of a vaccine jeopardizes that scheme.

So, The Atlantic swooped in, acting as a distraction for all sides. It worked. Instead of fielding mildly-serious questions during his first presser in weeks, Biden was allowed to fixate on the latest manufactured Trump outrage. Team Trump and outlets on the Right were forced to go on the defensive yet again, working quickly to dispute The Atlantic’s allegations while burying encouraging economic news and other successes such as the historic peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, a deal nearly two years in the making.

Going forward, rather than chase every political squirrel the media unfurls, what’s a better way for the White House, the campaign, and outlets on the Right to stay on message and avoid these traps?

Obviously, a swift and strong response is required. But a companion plan to weaponize any Trump hit piece against Biden should be considered. For example, The Atlantic story provided a perfect opportunity to highlight Biden’s long history of endorsing failed wars in the Middle East. Who is responsible for more disabled and disfigured U.S. soldiers, Joe  Biden or Donald Trump? Whose decisions have resulted in thousands of American troops killed in action with little to show for it, Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

Why did Biden flip and flop and flip again on our almost two-decades-long involvement in Afghanistan? What about his ongoing support for the Iraq War and his revisionist history on weapons of mass destruction?

Donald Trump, with the backing of the American public, wants to bring our troops home from both countries. What is Biden’s plan? How many more American lives is he willing to sacrifice for unclear, unattainable goals in Iraq and Afghanistan? Voters deserve to know.

Fortunately for the Trump campaign, much like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden is a deeply-damaged commodity. From his family’s corrupt international business dealings to his unwavering defense of China and his creepy interactions with women and children, Biden’s past is fertile ground for plenty of political dirt. The White House and the campaign might be better off quickly pivoting to Biden’s lousy resume in office instead of engaging in a game of gotcha, which turns off most Americans.

Going on the offense in this media climate is an uphill battle, no doubt. But with eight weeks to go—armed with lessons learned on how not to drown in the cacophony of Russian collusion, impeachment, and a litany of other manufactured crises—Team Trump must try. Use the bully pulpit to bully them right back.

And those of us on the Trump-supporting Right, no matter how tempting it might be to jump in the scrum of the day, should stay focused as well. Yes, immediately refute dishonest reporting but leverage any attempted smear job against Biden and the Democrats. Joe Biden has a long record of failure; let’s use the next 60 days to remind American voters exactly what it is.

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